A few updates here, Search Engine Land published my latest column last week. I reviewed my panel at SMX West which, aside from a fire alarm in the middle of my presentation, went smoothly. I also got some video interviews published and you can see them here. I spoke with Jessica Bowman about Enterprise SEO and all the related fun and hijinx. Now it’s time to hunker down and get some serious work done before I head out on a much needed vacation in early April. Definitely looking forward to that!
Search Marketing Expo always gives me a chance to spend some quality time with my industry peeps. There aren’t too many people who do what I do for a living, and conferences like SMX are unique opportunities to ‘get my search geek on’ with the only group of people who can really tolerate such an experience. I’ve been referring to this esteemed group of professionals as ‘idiots like me’ this week, a label that may or may not stick – we’ll see. I’ll do a recap of my sessions soon for Search Engine Land and can give you some more detail then, but I’m speaking at a session on Maximizing ROI in Enterprise PPC tomorrow, and today I’m doing Q&A moderating on two in-house panels on SEO and PPC, respectively. Can’t Wait!
I’m here in Las Vegas at Pubcon getting ready for my sessions this afternoon. I’m speaking on Enterprise-level Bid Management with some very seasoned industry veterans. But before that I’m moderating a panel on Building in-house SEO teams. These are some of my favorite topics in search so I’m pretty geeked up. And, as always happens when I’m at Pubcon, I’m in the middle of annual planning. We just turned our second version of 2012 plan, which leaves us with one or two more rounds before budgets are approved. I wrote a piece on planning that was published on Search Engine Land two weeks ago. I have a feeling my next piece will be a recap of the two panels I’m on today. More to follow!
I was at SMX East very briefly. I sandwiched in a 36-hour stint in The Big Apple in between a family mini-vacation in La Jolla (sweet!) and a trip to Chile to work with our development team down there – very nice place, Chile – never been there before. SMX was great as usual, as I got to catch up with some old friends as well as make some new ones. Shout out to Frank Grasso (new friend) and Mark Knowles (old friend) – we had a great time one evening at Ramblas tapas bar in the West Village.
I had the privilege of speaking on two panels with some really great folks, and I think the audience was pretty into it. They asked a lot of thoughtful and sophisticated questions. When I got back, I wrote a piece on Search Engine Land that recaps the two panels. As always I welcome any critique or criticism on these two topics – I always tell folks that I’m passionate about this stuff and I could go on and on for hours talking about it. Look me up, people!
I’m back to obsessing about attribution models and how they do and don’t get adopted by marketing organizations in big companies. I’ve spoken with folks who have had success in this regard – they are few and far between – and most of the success stories are from companies that are inherently data driven, where the math behind attribution plays a central role in their businesses. Think credit cards, financial services, insurance, etc.
As well, I’ve spoken with some of the providers – ad servers who do custom work around this stuff for large customers, and of course pure play attribution companies, and talked about some of the common challenges they all face in big orgs. Turns out the biggest challenges are not technical, they’re organizational.
The central theme here is the inherent tension between models that are sound (mathematically) and those that can be easily understood. As this plays out and evolves, stakeholders are less willing to buy into these attribution models and that’s where the process falls apart. More detail in my Search Engine Land column published today.
I’ve been remiss in posting to this blog some of my latest attempts at contributing to the search world. In the past I would post my column content here after it had published on search engine land, plus give folks a little color. The good editors over at SEL reminded me that this was in violation of my signed agreement with them, so I stopped. So, instead, I guess it makes sense to point folks back to search engine land where you can read my stuff if you’d like (the SEO in me just died a little — sigh).
My last post, which came out two days ago, told the story of recent SEO success at Yahoo! Anyone who works at a large company can appreciate even a small dose of SEO success. This column looks at a few factors that together created a tipping point (thanks, Malcom) for SEO at Yahoo! in some of our largest and most visited sites. Turns out that is you have executive support and you’re able to work SEO requirements into the development process, then simply by creating clean URLs and eliminating duplicate content, you can double your SEO traffic! Who knew?
Looking through some old material the other night, I came across a column I wrote in 2009 about my Search Marketing New Year’s Resolutions. Not surprisingly, like many New Year’s resolutions, some of them didn’t get accomplished. But enough of the world has changed since I inked that column two years ago that I thought it made sense to update it a la 2011. Here we go!
Resolution #1: I will integrate my SEO and social media marketing (SMM) strategies. Everyone’s doing it, or at least claiming they are. SEO and SMM teams working hand-in-hand, harmonizing messaging across facebook, twitter and the like, resonating with a singular voice, engaging users in a conversation that seamlessly unfolds on search results pages and social graphs across the internet. Easier for small sites and companies to accomplish, not so much for large, matrixed organizations with some of the worlds largest web properties. No problem, we already have ‘like’ and ‘tweet’ buttons all over the site, not to mention eighteen facebook pages and about a dozen or two twitter feeds. We should be able to get our hands around this in a matter of weeks – I’ll just start a Center of Excellence, include all the key players in search and social media around the company, and disseminate standards and best practices to all the stakeholders. Should be a snap, no?
Resolution #3: I will devote more time to my adCenter account. Now that the Bing transition is complete in the US, all my Yahoo! search traffic is now coming in through my adCenter accounts. Thing is, adCenter works quite a bit differently than Yahoo! Search Marketing (YSM) did. I’m seeing traffic levels and CPCs change on my existing keywords, and I’m definitely seeing a different keyword mix driving my traffic than I did with YSM. I need to double check my international settings, expand my keyword list, restructure my accounts, write new creative, re-bid everything to match new CPCs and conversion rates, lift my budget caps…I better get started now!
Resolution #4: I will SEO my WordPress blog. This is getting embarrassing. I mean it’s like the cobbler’s children having no shoes over here. Some posts are tagged, some aren’t. None are categorized. And to be honest, I’m having a hard time with the basics – for example, writing titles that are both SEO-friendly and don’t make you puke in your mouth when you look at them. Yes indeed, it’s time to hunker down, put the headphones on, and sharpen my WordPress ninja skills so I can take advantage of all the SEO-friendliness the popular blogging platform offers. I think I’m still using the default (Kubrik) header with no add-ons except my own domain name. Disgraceful, truly disgraceful…
Resolution #5: I will take advantage of all the newest features and extensions available from the search advertising platforms. One of the nice things about the evolution of search marketing is that it isn’t just search marketing anymore. Display advertising, retargeting, click-to-call, landing page testing and automated bidding are just a few of the myriad new features now offered to the search marketer, direct from the search engines. I need to make a prioritized list of features right away, write up a testing schedule, integrate it with all my other priorities, evaluate results, roll out successful strategies across my entire programs – I could spend all year on this one.
Well, it looks like I have my work cut out for me this year, so I better get to it. See you next month. Until then, Happy Searching!
The end of the year always brings with it reflection of the good and the bad, the satisfaction of accomplishments and the yearning to do more. I got to thinking about all the great things the search marketing industry has given me, and all the things yet to come…..
Ah, the holiday season. Creative refreshes, keyword expansions, bidding up to capture all those credit card-wielding customers. As yet another action-packed holiday season descends upon us, while we light the menorah again and again, exchange gifts and happily hang delicate decorations on the tree, as we make lists and check them twice, I’m want to reflect on my own wishes for the industry I’ve grown to love over the past decade.
Here is my search marketing wishlist for the holidays this year:
Better SEM Planning Tools – I know, I know. SEM planning is tricky – inventory changes, markets shift, competition escalates, blah blah blah. While there are some crude public tools out there for planning, I wouldn’t want to take any of their data to the bank in Q4. Then again, perhaps the problem lies not in planning tools, but rather in planning cycles. The fact that right now I’m in the middle of the 2010 shopping season and I’m putting together a plan for the 2011 shopping season means that I’ll never get it right. I’ve written in the past (and talk all the time) about how to put processes in place to account for the inherent uncertainty of paid search, but let’s face it, in large companies there is a premium on certainty, a rare commodity in search marketing. Santa, baby, bring me some planning tools!
Actionable Attribution Management – I’ve spent a good deal of time writing about Attribution Management and the related challenges and opportunities. I still believe this is one of the Next Big Things for online marketers and I know that we, as an industry, will figure out how to make it work and integrate it into our marketing workflow. In the meantime, however, I will continue to shout about how we’re still in the dark on attribution management. We don’t even have a hint at the standards and conventions that will allow us to speak a common language when it comes to this up-and-coming marketing discipline, and until we do we’re pretty much just spinning our wheels. Come on, people – take the plunge and let’s get going!
Holiday Bidding Algorithms – Last year was the first holiday season where we used automated bidding algorithms on some of our in-house retail-focused paid search campaigns. Boy, was that ever exciting! We learned a lot about how to (and how not to) build an algorithm that could react to a rapidly-shifting market like Q4 retail, and I think we’re a lot better off this year as a result — but we’ll know much better in a couple of weeks. One of the keys we found, not surprisingly, is that a much shorter time horizon needs to be used in making bidding decisions in a rapidly shifting marketplace. Also, historical (year over year) data can come into play to help predict when marketplace shifts will happen. Above all, bidding automatons, make sure you have methods in place to measure the success of your bidding strategy.
More Bing Traffic – I love the quality of traffic I get in the new Unified Marketplace (Bing + Yahoo!, managed through adCenter). My feeling is that as advertisers get more adept at using adCenter, we’ll get better at optimizing the combined Bing and Yahoo traffic to get the most value out of the Unified Marketplace.
Standards, Standards, Standards – OK, we’ve been doing this search marketing thing for a while now, and we still don’t have any real standards in our industry. Am I the only one who is bothered by that? Big Ups to Google for their adwords certification program, but outside of that it’s still like the wild west out here. On the technical side of the house, the search engines give us API access but there is no formal training, nor is there a blueprint for success on how to use them. Every new large advertiser or tools provider has to reinvent the wheel to figure out how to execute on efficient API management. We could really use an open source or pre-defined set of standards or best practices on how to optimize API calls or data storage for different types of web server or firmware configurations. And what about the marketing side of the house? I’d love to have some consensus around benchmarks for metrics like CTR by position, conversion rates for different kinds of businesses, CTRs and CPCs for brand keywords, etc.
More Innovative Ad Products – I simply adore retargeting and behavioral targeting. But with the rapid ascent of search marketing over the past five or six years, the display advertising industry has taken a back seat, relatively speaking. The fact that inventory supply now generally exceeds advertiser demand hasn’t helped. And now that search marketing has matured so incredibly quickly and competition has reached feeding-frenzy levels, there is a renewed focus on display inventory and how to make it more valuable for advertisers. Ad networks and exchanges have pushed this evolution along by offering CPA and CPC buys, and it helps that more publishers are offering retargeting. So, what’s next? I’ve run into a few companies that are doing some super smart work around automating display optimization at the placement- and creative-level on specific networks. There’s lots of opportunity here, as efficiency makes a big difference. I think the next step will be taking such ideas and optimizing across networks, and soon, hopefully, across search and display.
That should just about cover everything I want this holiday season. Oh, and if somehow the San Diego Chargers can miraculously make the playoffs this year, that’d be just swell. Hey, a guy can wish, can’t he? Happy Holidays!
I caught up with Mike at WebProNews last week at PubCon. We talked about, among other things, what it’s like to go through the Search Alliance transition being both an advertiser and a publisher. The first take of the interview is here.
Measuring the success of our optimization efforts turned out to be harder than any of us initially thought. It occurred to me that since my situation is anything but unique, it might make sense to write about it. Hopefully others have had similar experiences and we can raise awareness on this rather new topic…
You’ve made the case for advanced optimization, implemented loads of slick technology, and deployed across some or all of your paid search programs. Did you do the right thing? Did you make more money? If so, how much more?
To answer the question ‘did I make more money’ implies a baseline. Trouble is, you don’t really have one. What you’re really asking is ‘did I make more money than I would have otherwise’, and it’s hard to tell with paid search, because the market is inherently dynamic, as are the programs we manage in these markets. This makes benchmarking really tough, and scientific testing nearly impossible.
What you need here is a way to (somewhat) objectively measure success, a methodology not only that people can agree upon, but also one where execution is manageable. Let’s look at a few ideas that might work for you, starting from the simplest and moving toward the more complex:
Trending Success Metrics Over Time.
Look at trends in revenue, profit, ROI, whatever matters to you most from week to week, month to month, etc. Look at overall program performance before you started optimizing, and over time as optimization took over. You just might find out that ROI has increased steadily quarter over quarter, for instance. This approach is relatively easy, and works fine in a steady-state environment, but if you’re subject to seasonality or a shifting market it may not work for you. For example, your optimization efforts may look like a home run in a booming economy or a high season, and conversely you might be inclined to run back to your cube and update your resume if you’re trending results in a low season or a rough economy. What if this method doesn’t give you any conclusive results?
Comparing Paid Search to Your Overall Business
If seasonality or macroeconomic trends are clouding your view of campaign performance, try comparing your results to those of your business as a whole. This may give you the baseline you need, particularly if your paid search campaign is in a somewhat mature state. For example, if your company saw ten percent earnings growth and your SEM profit increased by twenty percent over the same period, you may be able to claim ten percent growth attributed to paid search. That’s not bad for a day’s work, assuming the lift in profit is more than you paid for optimization. But what if your paid search program is on a totally different trajectory than your overall business?
If the first two methods don’t work for whatever reason, here’s another way to look at it. You probably have parts of your portfolio that are managed by automated algorithms, and portions that aren’t. Try looking at these parts separately to understand what happened. Select a cohort of keywords that was managed by each method, and analyze what happened over time. You’ll need to account for seasonality, so ideally look at year-over-year comparisons, or if you don’t have that long a timeline, try to normalize for the seasonality with historical data (try to figure out how much your paid search business as a whole changes with the season). Then, look at the performance of each cohort and compare. For example, if you’re managing through an economic downturn and you see a downward trend in cohort A, but cohort B shows a flat trend line, even though you’re not seeing growth in cohort B you may conclude that it’s doing better by comparison, and you can now quantify the ‘growth’ or ‘lift’.
As I hint at above, once you understand your lift or growth from advanced optimization, you will want to calculate your ROI on the optimization effort as a whole. Particularly if you’re in a big company, you should always be able to hold your projects up against any other effort your company could otherwise use the money to pursue. If you can show that you increased profit by a million dollars at, say, a fifty percent ROI, odds are good that your management will be asking you if you can do more optimization projects, thereby eliminating the need for you to rush back to your cube and update that resume.
Again, I think the key here is to find a method that you and your management can agree upon and a process that is manageable. And once you do, you’ll be well served to have the data and analyses in your hip pocket well before anyone comes asking for them.